Will the Pandemic Caused Automation Beckon for Another Industrial Revolution?

The current pandemic of COVID-19 is stubborn about its nefarious impact on the world economy. As it has knocked up businesses, industries, etc. off their chart, CFOs are turned their heads to automation boom. The hope is to counter the devastating dearth of the labor force due to government-imposed lockdowns both local and nation wise.

Ernst & Young has predicted that the workforce will go down at plummeting rates. As countries like the UK, the USA, the People’s Republic of China, India and most of the other Asian and European countries have put breaks on their industrial productivity, unemployment is rising and factories are rendered with zero output. This deteriorates a nation’s GDP and pushes it down into recession. Hence other than slashing costs to weather the depression, automation is the viable option here. And companies have started opting for it to fill the labor drop gaps.

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Michael Heric, a partner in consulting firm Bain & Co.’s technology, media, and telecommunications practices said, “For many, the crisis is accelerating the vision that they’ve already had for a long time,” said “While it could have taken years or even decades to make that shift, I think you’re going to see it much faster now.”

Experts believe that this labor deficit may extend even after the pandemic fizzles out. Yet if the labor costs go down, automation can suffer demands too. This may not become a likely situation, however, one cannot rule out the possibility, even when chances are slim. To add in a competitive factor, the enterprise software is much cheaper as they were a decade ago. When connected with the latest cloud features, automation reduces the human skills reliance, saves time with improved efficiency and accuracy. And as new advancements in technology take place, it can surely relive the dependency on humans especially in crisis times like this. As robots shall never suffer nor transmit diseases like us (except when it is a software virus or malware).

While in the pre-coronavirus emergency time, automation was already made part in sectors like packaging, finance, assembly lines, etc. now the momentum may shift towards areas like food and retail, healthcare, logistics and transportation of goods from essential to machine parts, etc. Firms that provide call services, BPO and KPO, may upgrade to automated bots that will filter out trivial cases while allowing one and one communication to only emergency and priority calls and queries.

Most of the multinationals want to use automation to centralize their shared services ranging from accounting to human resources, customer relationship management for higher efficiency.

San Jose, California based Fetch Robotics saw a 63% proliferation in inquiries from U.S. manufacturers during the pandemic. It also fielded inquiries for disinfection robots, which when equipped with UV light sources can kill the virus.

This onset of the second age of machines is not met by employees with equal excitement as their superiors. The UK alone can lose about 1.5 million workers due to automation. Women, people of colored race and ethnic origins will be the worst-hit victims. Despite these fears, one cannot dismiss the surging importance of automation. Maybe humans and robots and AI can work in a symbiotic manner that will benefit everyone. The fallout can blur the competing lines in man vs machine and lead to the dawn of new age.